Teacher capacities, attitudes and inclusion of teachers from the Adivasi communities: Breakout Session

By Indira Vijaysimha| Oct 1, 2019

It is important to keep in mind that many of the Adivasi children are first-generation school-goers and if the teacher cannot speak their language, the children will not benefit from schooling.

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The University-Practice Connect Initiative of the Azim Premji University has been engaging with practitioners, organizations, government officials and academics working in the area of tribal education. Taking this association further to collectively arrive at a better understanding of a variety of issues, a knowledge-sharing workshop on Elementary Education of Adivasi Children in India’ was organised at the University on March1‑2, 2019. This report documents one of the panel discussions among a group of participants and a reflective conclusion on the same.

You can read more about the Workshop on Adivasi Education here.


  • Lack of teachers from the indigenous communities and hence, the dependence on teachers from the mainstream communities for the education of the Adivasi children.
  • The capacities and beliefs of existing teachers – the lack of sensitivity towards the community’s way of life, cultures, language etc. Thus, the role of teacher education to build the necessary attitudes and capacities.
  • The need for inclusion of teachers from the Adivasi community itself as a role model for students as well as a sensitive, apt educator who understands the context.
  • Policy and administrative hurdles in the implementation of strategies.

Preliminary discussion

There were eleven participants, who are involved with a range of work spanning the classroom to government policy recommendations as well as experience with teacher education. The group, after a round of introductions, put across matters of mainstream teacher beliefs and attitudes; personal experiences of overcoming challenges and building trust; policy implementation challenges; lack of belief in student potential; lack of teachers from within the community; as well as, bright spots of peer-learning; freedom to teachers for picking contextual learning outcomes; bridge language inventory; attitudinal model of training teachers and having voluntary teacher forums; amongst others, in a discussion that was free-flowing and inclusive in nature.

The participants shared their contexts and gave the group brief insights about the nature of their engagement with teachers of Adivasi children and the challenges that they encountered.

The discussion, initially, focused on the issue of language and challenges arising due to dealing with linguistic diversity in the classroom when pedagogies are premised on the assumption that all children in the classroom are sufficiently fluent in the official language of the state. States, like Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand, have many different Adivasi communities each with their distinct language and culture. Some states also have an inter-community link language like Sadari, which is spoken in parts of Odisha. However, school textbooks are typically in the official language of the state and in any case, children are expected to become fluent in reading and writing this language by the time they complete the lower primary. Since there was a specific break-out group to discuss the issues associated with Multi-Lingual Education (MLE) it was suggested that the discussion could move away from the vexed issue of medium of instruction in Adivasi areas and focus on issues related to teachers and teaching. However, the issue of language is significant as we shall see in the following parts of the report.

Adivasi languages and the teacher


The ideal situation would be if Adivasi children can be taught by teachers who are themselves native speakers of the same language in addition to being trained teachers. However, given the low literacy and school completion rates in several Adivasi communities, it is difficult to find teachers for Ashram Shalas who speak the children’s language. Thus, the availability of teachers who can communicate with children in their own language is a key issue. It is important to keep in mind that many of the children are first-generation school-goers and if the teacher cannot speak their language, the children will not benefit from schooling. It is often the case when teachers cannot speak the children’s language, children end up coming only for the mid-day meals and sooner or later drop out of school altogether.

In Chhattisgarh, the state has the policy to appoint Adivasi teachers, however, this alone is not sufficient to overcome the language barrier. A case in point is the Dantewada district where the appointed Adibasi teachers were from other districts, and they could not speak or understand the children’s language. The recruitment policy needs to be such that teachers know the languages specific to the district where they are appointed to. There is also a shortage of Adivasi teachers for subjects like science and math, further compounding the problem. In Odisha with 23% tribal population and 62 different tribal communities, there are very few trained teachers from the tribal communities. The state has been implementing an MLE program, but it is limited in scope. It is estimated that there are 14,000 schools with 80% or more tribal children. However, the MLE program is only being run in 2000 schools. There are no tribal teachers even in schools with 100% tribal children.

The attitude towards tribal languages is also problematic. Even in the workshop, some participants referred to these languages as dialects’. The conventional notion seems to be that education should help the child move from dialects’ to the state language and then to English. The status of the languages is also very marked with English receiving the highest status, followed by the official language of the state and finally the tribal language. Ashram Shala teachers in some schools considered the Adivasi children to be incapable of learning and refuse to speak the children’s language even if they know it. However, in the case of some NGO schools, teachers had a positive belief about the children’s capacity to do well in studies.

While some mention was made of the strategy to help children transition to the official state language, the question of whether this would lead to children thinking about their own language as inferior, was raised. This is a serious concern as there is a widely prevalent perception about the inferiority of tribal languages, especially since many of these do not have a written script. In many cases, Adivasi communities themselves consider their own language to be unequal to the dominant or official state language. In the case of the Soliga people, parents explicitly told researchers that they expected schools to teach children the language of the state, naadu bhashe’ and not their mother tongues which they referred to as the language of the forest, kaadu bhashe’. In many places, tribal children have had the experience of being laughed at for speaking in their own language. Such experiences lead to silencing of these children in the classroom and this further leads the teachers to think of them as dull and incapable.

On-going efforts:

In Chhattisgarh, Language and Literacy Foundation has created an online course on MLE for teachers of Adivasi children. The state textbooks have 25% of lessons in the tribal language and training is given to teachers on how to teach the lessons. A monthly newsletter is brought out that has a separate section on tribal languages. Comic strips in tribal languages have also been developed in order to teach some difficult concepts. In some states, efforts have been made to have bi-lingual textbooks for tribal children beginning with grade I textbook with 80% vocabulary in tribal language and 20% in the official state language, in grade II with 60% tribal vocabulary and remaining 40% in the state language and in grade III, the proportion is 20% tribal language and 80% state language. So, by grade IV, the children can transition to the mainstream textbook. Such textbooks have only been developed in a few cases and there is no systematic evidence to show that this method has proved effective. In Maharashtra, textbooks in tribal language were not accepted by the state education department. This was also the case with Karnataka several years ago when textbooks, especially for the Soliga children, were developed by the Central Institute for Indian Languages, Mysore.

Shiksha Sandhan in Odisha while working with the Ho community across 60 schools, recruited tribal volunteer teachers and built their capacity. They collected tribal stories, songs and village histories and developed bi-lingual material, like pictures, cards and stories. They also trained government teachers on how to teach tribal children even if they were not familiar with the children’s language. This resulted in a better atmosphere in the schools. The strategy was to help children transition to the Oriya language, gradually. Part of the teacher training also involved attitudinal training. During the discussion, mention was made of the experience of running schools in Kargil which has a multi-ethnic population. In order to serve the needs of the population there, a bridge language inventory has been developed.

In Jharkhand, trained teachers from the Santhal community get appointed to schools, but in some cases, they themselves are not familiar with Santhali language and are not able to communicate easily with children in remote hamlets who only speak Santhali. Tata Steel is funding an organization that provides twice-yearly residential training program in Santhali for teachers working in schools with Santhali children. The organization also holds other workshops on Santhali culture and involves the community elders in these sessions. A bi-annual Santhali magazine is brought out in order to encourage people to write in Santhali. The Santhali training program recognizes three levels of proficiency in Santhali. After completing the advanced training, teachers are selected for training others in the language.

Teacher attitudes


Teachers often carry many stereotypical ideas about tribal communities. Teachers from non-tribal communities hold notions about the primitive’ nature of the Adivasi people. These notions are sometimes, even held by Adivasi teachers who have attended regular schools and internalized such stereotypes. In one case, teacher volunteer from the Kondh community who was with Agragamee, remarked about how she was trying to get children in her school to not wear traditional ornaments and dresses. She saw these as signs of backwardness. In many cases, the Adivasi identity is a stigmatized one and the attempt in school is to make the children more like the others.

There are other beliefs about tribal communities that are prevalent among teachers. They believe that Adivasi people do not understand the value of education and its importance. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the teachers do not expect the children to do well and this leads to the Golem effect wherein the children underperform in schools and eventually drop out. The community, in turn, concludes that schooling or education is not suitable for their children. The consequence is there for all of us to see in the low literacy and school completion rates among Adivasi people.

Certain cultural practices like social drinking that are accepted in Adivasi communities are considered undesirable and denigrated by teachers who come from communities where drinking is considered taboo. Similarly, drinking by women is accepted in many Adivasi communities, but not outside these communities. This leads to a cultural dissonance between the school teacher and the community. There is a tendency for teachers to take a moral stance towards the cultural practices of the tribals and this is reinforced by religious groups that carry out proselytizing activities among the tribal groups. There is little understanding about the cultural and religious practices of the tribal groups and the attempt is to draw them into the non-tribal culture which is considered the norm.

On-going efforts:

In Odisha, Siksha Sandhan has been working with 60 schools which have pre-dominantly children from the Ho community. The volunteer teachers from the Ho community, recruited for these programs, are helped to develop sensitivity by training that includes identity-building, confidence-building and encouragement.

In Gujarat, capacity-building workshops for teachers working with Adivasi communities are organized. Attempts were also made to give teachers more autonomy in terms of pedagogy used to achieve the desired learning outcomes. If some teachers are successful, then, their pedagogy is shared with other teachers.

In the Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, there has been an on-going effort to develop the capacities of Adivasi teachers. Initially, there was no cooperation between local Adivasi teachers and non-Adivasi teachers. It almost appeared that the Adivasi teachers had little interest in learning and teaching. After a series of on-going interactions, the Adivasi teachers have become more open and are also interested to improve their capacities as teachers.

The System and teachers

There are a huge number of systemic issues that make it difficult for teachers to teach Adivasi children effectively.

  • Remoteness of schools: Teachers are posted in remote areas entailing long and tedious daily commute since the remote settlements do not have proper housing facilities for teachers.
  • Multi-grade situation: In the remote settlements, the teacher has to teach a multi-age group of children. Teachers neither have the training nor the resources/​material to help them with this.
  • Recruitment: There is no clear policy of recruiting teachers who can work with specific linguistic groups. There is also a shortage of Adivasi teachers who meet the state criteria for becoming teachers.
  • Quality of PSTE: Pre-service teacher education does not specifically equip teachers to teach Adivasi children. Apart from this, the quality of PSTE, in general, is inadequate and the primary/​elementary school teacher is not sufficiently prepared for teaching excellence. Distance mode of PSTE is found to be even more inadequate, according to the participants in the group.
  • Lack of mentoring: There is no provision for systematically orienting and mentoring teachers who work with Adivasi children. More often than not, the enthusiasm of the fresh teacher is dampened by the senior teachers.
  • Lack of context-specific teaching resources: The DIETs have not succeeded in localizing the curriculum or textbooks to better serve the needs of the Adivasi children and their teachers. Teachers are expected to teach the standard textbook across widely varying contexts.

Suggestions and recommendations

Participants in the group had several suggestions which are summarized below:

  • Recruitment: Recruitment of teachers should be done keeping in mind the specific language requirements in different areas and teachers should be matched with the school’s requirements.

Selection criteria for teachers from Adivasi communities can be modified to fulfil the need for more Adivasi teachers, who are fully qualified. In the Nandurbar district, it was found that when local/​Adivasi teachers were preferentially hired, there was a lack of cooperation between them and non-local teachers. At the same time, the Adivasi teachers lacked confidence and basic skills. A systematic effort to address the learning needs of these teachers was taken up successfully on a small scale and perhaps this can offer a way forward in other places with similar conditions.

  • Developing teacher capacities: There is a great need to strengthen teacher education programs, in general. Teachers should receive adequate professional training in order to teach various school subjects effectively to all children. They should also be enabled to teach in a child-friendly manner. Further, teachers may be given the option to specifically develop skills to work with Adivasi children by exposing them to the linguistic and cultural diversity of these communities. There was also a suggestion to create awareness among high school graduates of Adivasi communities about PSTE programs and support them in taking up the same.
  • Using technology: Technology can be channelized to meet many of the learning needs of teachers who work with Adivasi children. Modules to help them learn the local language can be developed so that teachers can communicate better with their children. In addition to these, teacher groups can enable them to exchange notes and share information about successful pedagogical practices. Further, by providing schools with ICT (information and communications technology) devices, Adivasi children can be helped to become more familiar with the official state language and English.
  • Teacher Forums: Several voluntary teacher forums (VTFs)have been created and these have helped in creating professional communities of teachers. The formation of more such VTFs should be encouraged.
  • Multi-grade education: Given the present situation of isolated habitations, a strong teacher preparation module on multi-grade teaching supported with adequate teaching-learning resources must be created.
  • Alternative pedagogies and curriculum: Many such experiments, including Nai Talim have been tried out at various places and times in India and elsewhere. These may provide valuable sources to develop a better education for Adivasi children.

Facilitator: Dr Indira Vijaysimha, Faculty, Azim Premji University; Founder, Poorna Learning Centre.

Anil Pradhan, Member Secretary, Sikshasandhan, Odisha

Ameen Charles, Ganesh, Jaideep Das, Joba Murmu, Damodar Jain, Pralhad Kathole, Lalita Bhamare, Ramachary, M Sudhish, Udaya Kumar Bekal